Warwick Castle

A Day Trip out of London to the Warwick Castle

One of my favorite things to do when I travel is to get out of the big city and take a day trip somewhere in the countryside. As much as I love all the culture, art, museums, restaurants, tourist attractions and shopping there is to do in a city, after a few days I crave some fresh air and peace away from all the crowds and stimulation. It was no different with our recent trip to London. We had planned on four full days in London and knew that we would be able to cover all the things we wanted to do in three, meaning we would have time to do a side trip.

There are many options for day trips outside of London and it all depends on how much you want to spend and what you want to do. The most popular day trip is to Bath, the Windsor Castle and Stonehenge yet this trip can take over ten to twelve long hours to complete and the most economical way to do it is via tour bus. We wanted to do something a little different so instead we opted to hire a private driver for the day. We had used the same driver for our transportation from the airport to central London and Mr. Singh proved to be a fantastic guide.

Normally I am a huge planner however for this trip we decided to wing it. That was probably our first mistake because careful research would have told us that the Windsor Castle – home to the Queen and 900 years of history – was closed on the day we were hoping to visit. It is the most popular castle to see given it is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world and only an hour and a half drive outside of London. We didn’t realize it was closed until the morning of our day trip so we had to come up with a Plan B immediately. I knew that the girls would love to see a castle over Stonehenge so we decided on the Warwick Castle located about two and a half hours northwest of London. It was going to be a long day but hopefully worth it.

We left at nine am from our perfectly located apartment at the Citadines Trafalgar Square with our driver Mr. Dil Singh in a six passenger SUV. Dil was born in India but has been living in London for years and was a real treat. I sat up front as I like to always talk with the locals to learn as much as I possibly can about where I’m visiting. I told Dil that although we have been enjoying London it was a bit too touristy at this time of year and he wistfully replied “London is like a four bedroom house with 15 people living in it“. I laughed and agreed with his assessment of trying to fight the crowds of people walking the streets of Central London. It was going to be nice to get away from it all for the day.

Getting there 

We took M40 due north passing the rolling green hills of the countryside, talking away.  About an hour into the drive, my niece noticed with concern that the speedometer read 100. Silly me told her not to worry and that we were going 100 kilometers per hour not miles per hour which converts into approximately 62 mph, our standard speed limit on most US Highways. I then launched into a speech on how Europe and most of the world go by km/h and how we are different in that regard. It took our driver Dil three attempts to correct my mistake because I thought he was joking. After all these years I honestly had no idea that England does indeed use miles per hour! When it finally got through my head that we were truly going 100 mph we told him to slow down. He was just going with the flow of traffic but for us, it felt a bit nerve-wracking because we never drive that fast in the US even on huge open highways in the middle of South Dakota. We continued our drive in the slow lane being passed by everyone but at least we felt more relaxed. Poor Dil was mortified that he upset us which we assured him that he did not. It is just one of those cultural differences that comes with traveling (not to mention driving on the other side of the road!).

We arrived at the Warwick Castle just before lunch and it unfortunately began to rain. The skies were dark and gloomy yet it gave the entire place a rather mystical feel like you’d imagine when visiting a medieval castle in the English countryside. Based on the website, I wasn’t sure what to expect with the castle. I had imagined it would be like some over-the-top Disney-like place but it actually ended up being pretty darn cool and a great first castle for the girls to see. Best of all, it wasn’t mobbed with tourists like most of the other attractions we’d seen.

The Warwick Castle was built by William the Conqueror in 1068 on the grounds of a burg (hilltop settlement) dating back to 914. Located in Warwick at the bend of the River Avon, in 2001 the castle was named one of Britain’s “Top 10 Historic Houses and Monuments” by the British Tourist Authority. Its long, fascinating history of well over a thousand years is what brings many tourists to its grounds and you can easily spend an entire day exploring the castle and taking in some of their shows, activities  and attractions.  For us, we only had three hours which was enough to see most of the grounds, visit the Great Hall exhibits and take in some of the Birds of Prey show. We had also purchased tickets to the Castle Dungeon Tour which includes creepy encounters with live actors and special effects but unfortunately our show was unexpectedly canceled. Ironically, a tourist had fainted during the horror show and paramedics had to be called. Maybe it was a little too scary?

The Castle Grounds

The entrance to the Warwick Castle is located at The Stables Courtyard where there is a small restaurant and cafe, gift shop and ticket office. Once you purchase your tickets, you follow the gravel roads that surround the great walls, battlements, towers and turrets of the castle. It is quite majestic! There is a fun maze for the kids surrounding the castle grounds as well as a beautiful park and historic Mill and Engine House all outside the walls and Central Courtyard. If you want to make a day or even a night out of your visit, you can attend some of the shows during the day or evening, and even spend a night at the Tower Suites, Knights Village Lodges or try Medieval Glamping. There is plenty to do and keep you busy.

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The Great Hall

My favorite part of the castle was the Great Hall and State Rooms. It is the only furnished part of the castle and is loaded with history on all the past inhabitants who lived in the castle over the years. There are even wax replicas of some of the most famous residents and at first glance they look eerily real. I could have spent a lot of time inside this part of the castle but the girls were constantly on the go and had more fun running around the maze than reading all the plaques about history.

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The Mill and Engine House

Behind the castle right next to the river lies the Mill and Engine House which is interesting to visit and affords a gorgeous view of the river and the castle’s 64 acres of lush, rolling landscape and gardens. If it wasn’t raining, it would have been lovely to spend time viewing the gardens.

By 1:30 pm, we were all famished and the dining options at the Castle were disappointing. We decided to drive a bit further to Stratford-Upon-Avon, known as “Shakespearetown” since it is the birthplace of William Shakespeare. We arrived around 2 o’clock on a Sunday which happened to be Father’s Day so the town was bustling with activity. We settled on a lovely Italian restaurant for lunch and only had a few minutes to run over and peak at Shakespeare’s birthplace and family home. We regretted not having more time because Stratford-Upon-Avon is a lovely, charming town that we just happened to fall upon. Next time as I always like to say!

We arrived back in London a little past six exhausted from such a long day of travel but a bit refreshed. The country air had done us well! It was a quick shower, off to dinner and bed way too late as usual. But of course it was all very worth showing the girls their very first castle.

If you go:

Stay: Rent a studio or roomy two bedroom apartment at the Citadines Trafalgar Square. The location could not be more perfect as you are within walking distance to all the main attractions and tons of shopping and dining options. This is the second time I’ve stayed at this hotel and if I go back, I will stay there again. Tip: Ask for an apartment on a lower level if you are going in the summer as the air-conditioning isn’t great and these rooms are generally cooler.

You can also stay at one of the available lodging near the castle if you truly want to take it all in. I personally think the glamping option would be a blast.

See: The Warwick Castle is an excellent option for children. Plan on a minimum of 2 1/2 – 3 hours to visit the castle however there are plenty of other activities you can do if you want to make a day out of it. The Castle offers birds of prey shows, a dungeon show, and much more. Plus it has a lovely park behind the castle for a picnic if the weather is nice. If you book your tickets in advance online, you can save 30% which is huge as the castle tour is not cheap.

Learn: To learn more about the castle and view all the different attractions, visit www.warwick-castle.com

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Highlights of Our Three-Week Family Trip to Europe

I will never forget the one-page article I read decades ago in Newsweek by a prominent female journalist about the importance of transgenerational travel and how it changed her life. I was in my late 20s at the time, living and working in Chicago and had just returned from skiing in the French Alps with my parents. I was soon to be married and start a family of my own yet I could not let go of the love and joy I felt traveling with my parents as an adult. The article talked about how the writer had traveled the world with her mother well into her mother’s 80s and how that time together journeying around the world were some of their most sacred, special times ever together as mother and child. It struck a chord with my soul for I too had always traveled with my parents and they were the ones who introduced me to travel at a young age and gave me my wanderlust soul.

Decades and trips later, I have continued to travel with my parents to such far-reaching places as the Himalayas of Nepal, the Andes of South America, the perched villages of Provence and the European cities of Prague, Paris and London adding my sister into the mix. These times together have been some of the most sacred memories of my life and without question our shared love of travel meant that at some point we would have to introduce our own children to exploring the world.

The idea of a transgenerational trip to Europe launched a few years back when my mom, sister and I did a trip to London, Paris and the south of France. We knew that we wanted to do a girl’s trip once again with my mom yet include our daughters. We just needed to wait until they reached the age where they could handle all the walking and traveling. With my daughter Sophia at the age of 11 and my niece Hanna turning 13, this summer was the prefect time to do a three-generational trip to Europe and it was planned.

As the time for our departure approached, there was a last minute change of plans. My husband had planned on flying over to Europe with our son Max to meet up with us at the end of the girl’s trip yet he injured his back and couldn’t go. Since the trip was already planned and mostly paid for, we changed plans and had my father fly over to Europe with Max and take my husband’s place. We would be doing another transgenerational trip, this time with my dad, my son and daughter, throughout Germany and Austria. Despite the disappointment that Paul couldn’t go on the trip, there was a silver lining. My dad was able to come and get to spend 13 days with his grandkids exploring the Austrian Alps.

All in all, it was an absolutely amazing trip with lots of silly travel mishaps, magnificent moments and fun stories along the way. It will take me quite some time to put the entire journey into words but I’m excited to start sharing our trip with this first post on some of the main highlights. I hope you enjoy!

Our route: First a flight from Minneapolis to JFK then London. Four days in London with a day trip to Warwick. Next the Eurostar to Lille, the TGV to Paris and then a flight to Munich where we met my dad and Max and picked up our car. The rest a driving tour through Germany and Austria.

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The Original Tour London

The Original Tour: Seeing London via Double Decker bus

Spring time is a wonderful time to visit London before the hordes of tourists arrive in the high season of the summer months. However, as we all know the weather in London especially during the spring can be unpredictable and fickle. One moment it can be clear and sunny and the next moment the weather can turn wet, rainy and unpleasant.

So what do you do when it is pouring rain yet still want to see as much as possible of the city? Purchase a ticket for The Original Tour, a 24-hour hop on, hop off double decker bus ride that has three sightseeing lines which take you to over 150 top sights and destinations in London.

London

The first morning was glorious sunshine and then later in the day, the London rain arrived.

Those of you who are regular readers on my blog know by now that I prefer off the beaten path travel and most of the time would rather be hiking somewhere in the mountains. However, I also do love exploring big cities having lived in both Chicago and Paris during my younger years. When I’m in destination, I also tend to have an immense desire to see it all and end up cramming in as much as possible within the short time I’m there. I want to see the sights, take photos of the architecture, dine at the different restaurants and cafes, and experience the diverse neighborhoods that a large city has to offer.

This is why buying a pass on London’s Original Tour made a great deal of sense. It would allow me, my mom and sister to see a large part of the city in a short amount of time without spending large sums of money on taxis or walking until we couldn’t feel our feet anymore. It also would provide us with a sheltered way to sightsee and stay dry when London’s notorious day-long rain began to fall. Of course we would much rather of had gorgeous weather the entire time and have been able to sit out on the top deck of the bus for a stellar view but we couldn’t control the weather. At least we had the option to move up top in the event the skies cleared.

London

How it works

Basically you purchase your ticket either online or at one of the stops. There are also lots of kiosks that sell tickets throughout London (The cost in May 2016 is Adults £30 on sight or £26 online). You next grab your map and jump on wherever you want to begin. There are 80 different stops throughout London, and 6 different bus lines (3 are sightseeing and 3 are connector lines). Once you jump on, your 24 hour time period begins. The Yellow tour has a live guide while the red and blue tours provide headsets (in 11 different languages as well as a special guide for kids). The tours are fascinating and I learned a lot about the culture and history of London as well as a few fun tidbits.

For more details on schedules, prices, and routes, click here. 

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River Thames cruise, London

An afternoon cruising along the River Thames

We arrived in London early Sunday morning on Mother’s Day to beautiful Spring weather. The sky was shining brilliantly with absolutely no sign of rain, and the weather was going to heat up to delightful 80 degrees (26 C). Everyone was out and about enjoying the great outdoors and the parks of London.

Having just arrived from a transatlantic flight, my mom, sister and I were all very tired but we were determined to not let our jet lag make us sleep. Instead, we explored Central London and decided on taking an afternoon cruise along the River Thames on an open-air boat. It ended up being the perfect way to see London and enjoy some of the historical and unusually new, modern architecture of this amazing city.

London, England

A beautiful day in London

London, England

We walked the short distance to the River Thames from our hotel located a block away from Trafalgar square and purchased our tickets for a round-trip ride with City Cruises. Unfortunately, we were unaware at the time that a river cruise is included in the hop-on-hop-off bus tour package we would take the next day with the Original Tour. However, we timed it right given the bright sunny skies. Our bus tour would be wallowing in the infamous London rain.

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Horse Guards, London England

Watching London’s Changing of the Guards in the Spring

We arrived in London on Mother’s Day in early May and were welcomed by brilliant Spring sunshine and flowers. For the next two days, we would be gifted with England’s finest weather and the following two days with typical London in the spring: Rain, rain and more rain. Thankfully, we got a little bit of both because four days in London in the pouring rain would not have been much fun for sightseeing and taking pictures.

We stayed at the Citadines which rents out apartments and was centrally located a block away from Trafalgar Square making it the perfect base for exploring Central London. We had a two bedroom flat for the three of us and it was fantastic to have the extra space. Even better however was how close we were to every main tourist attraction: Piccadilly Circus, Buckingham Palace, the river Thames, the parks, theater, restaurants and loads of cafes, restaurants and pubs. Everything was literally a few minutes walk away which was delightful given how much time we spent on our feet.

The first full morning in London was sensational with sunny blue skies and record temperatures reaching almost 80 degrees (26 C). We could hardly believe our luck and rest assured, it was definitely going to be running out soon as two days later we would be wallowing in the notorious wet and dreary London rain.

We decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather and take a stroll through the park towards Buckingham Palace where we would watch the famous changing of the guards that typically occurs daily at 11:30 at Buckingham Palace. We left shortly after a late breakfast and headed towards the Mall leading to the palace.

Pall Mall, London England

Entering the Pall Mall, a long tree-lined street that passes next to St. James Park and brings you to Buckingham Palace.

The Changing of the Guard is a 500-year old ceremony where the Old Guard hands over responsibility for protecting Buckingham Palace and St. James Palace to the New Guard. Perhaps one of the top tourist attractions in London, it is a must-see for any visitor. Although I’m not one for touristy things I will admit it was interesting to witness. I was truly mesmerized by the beautiful black horses rode by the guardsman and the gorgeous gardens and grounds surrounding the palace.

During the ceremony, “immaculately turned out guards, precision drill and bands playing stirring music all combine to make Changing of the Guard one of London’s most popular attractions that epitomizes the pomp and military ceremony for which Britain is famous. When the Royal Standard is flying, from the roof of Buckingham Palace, Her Majesty The Queen is in residence and the ‘Queen’s Guard’ will consist of 3 officers and 40 men otherwise the guard will be composed of 3 officers and 31 men”. (Source: Changing-Guard.com)

Horse Guard Road, London England

We left around 10:30 and it was already getting crowded with camera-clad tourists and groups headed to Buckingham Palace to claim their spots. Judging by the crowds, it you wanted any chance of getting close and snapping a photo of the changing of the guards you best be there at least an hour early. We weren’t particularly concerned with fighting the crowds and instead wanted to take our time getting there. I’m glad we did as little did we know, the changing of the horse guards would be first.

Right as we were able to cross the street to St. James Park, we saw a line of majestic black horses and guards heading our way to the horse guard station. We stopped in our tracks and watched in awe as these beautiful creatures passed us by.

Horse Guards, London England

Horse Guards, London England

Horse Guards, London England

Horse Guards, London England

The London Eye is in the background

Horse Guards, London England

The changing of the horse guard ceremony took at least twenty minutes and was all pomp and ceremony with lots of flashes of the camera, selfie sticks and videos by the mesmerized tourists. I was amazed how the horses ignored the swarming crowds and stood there so patiently and majestically.

After the changing of the horse guards, it was the marching band that would lead to Buckingham Palace for the official Changing of the Guards. We followed along at a quickened pace trying to beat the crowds and snap a few photos of the funny black hats and stoic uniforms.

Changing of the Guards, London England

Changing of the Guards, London England

Changing of the Guards, London England

Changing of the Guards, London England

And then they arrived at Buckingham Palace to the frenzy of tourists trying to capture a view of the Changing of the Guards.

Changing of the Guards, London England

We couldn’t get any closer for a better view so we decided to head back through lovely St. James Garden where the spring flowers were in full bloom. Everyone in London was out enjoying the day and the gardens were packed with Londoners getting their fill of nature and greenery. I couldn’t think of a more perfect day to be there.

London, England

Leaving Buckingham Palace and looking back towards Central London

St. James Garden, London EnglandSt. James Garden, London England

I was in heaven as I absolutely love flowers. The gardens were absolutely spectacular, bursting with brilliant colors. I could have spent the entire day simply visiting the gardens of London and taking pictures.

St. James Garden, London England

St. James Garden, London EnglandSt. James Garden, London EnglandSt. James Garden, London EnglandSt. James Garden, London EnglandSt. James Garden, London EnglandSt. James Garden, London EnglandSt. James Garden, London EnglandSt. James Garden, London England

The flowers were in jubilant bloom and bursting to the sky. There were also gorgeous fragrant flowering trees within the park and alongside the historic homes of London. I really loved this tree below that was layered in white blossoms. I have no idea what kind it is but would love one in my backyard at home.

St. James Garden, London England

St. James Garden, London England

 

By the time we reached the end of St. James Garden, our stomachs were growling and it was time for the next adventure: Lunch. With so many choices, it was bound to take us a long time to decide on a place to eat.

If you go:

Changing-Guard.com is loaded with history, details and assistance for tourists who want to find the perfect place to view the Changing of the Guards. It even tells you the songs the band plays, the guards routes, and lists special events.

This post was inspired by the Weekly Photo Challenge: Jubilant. 

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